TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Two years after the war in Bosnia ended, details about horrific deeds done in the name of ethnic protection are emerging throughout the former Yugoslav federation. And this time, those telling the tales are those who committed the crimes.
Confessions by former paramilitary killers are being aired in Serbia (where one man was quickly arrested after he came clean) and in Croatia, where Miro Bajramovic, self-declared member of a particularly notorious hit squad, said he killed "90 to 110" civilians because they were Serbs.
Perhaps nowhere has this new urge to admit what happened had a more profound psychological impact than here in Sarajevo, the Muslim-dominated capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina that endured a devastating 43-month wartime siege and bombardment.
Newspapers and magazines have dedicated page after page to accounts from Muslim soldiers, gangsters and senior commanders, as well as to military court records. Put together, they paint a less-than-heroic picture of the kind of barbarity Muslims also resorted to during the war.
The most gruesome stories involve the ways Muslim paramilitaries, acting ostensibly to defend their besieged Sarajevo and, supposedly, with the approval of political leaders, killed and terrorized Serb civilians living in the city during the first year and a half of the war.
One commander of the Bosnian army's 10th Mountain Brigade, Musan Topalovic, known universally by his nickname Caco, may have killed hundreds of Serbs before his death in 1993. Transcripts from the 1994 trial of 12 of Caco's men were published for the first time this month in two Sarajevo publications. They brought back chilling memories that most Sarajevans had wanted to forget, or pretended they did not know.
The men told of rounding up Serb civilians, beating and killing them and often slitting their throats before dumping them in a mass grave at the Kazani pit, a natural crevice on the outskirts of Sarajevo.
While Caco's activities were already known to most Sarajevans, the publication now of such grisly details has led to a broad public soul-searching and demands that the authorities admit their role.
"People in Sarajevo are feeling ashamed that something happened just in front of us and everyone was silent," said Jakob Finci, a leader of Sarajevo's tiny Jewish community and executive director of the Soros Foundation's Open Society.
"Fear was the best explanation why everyone was so silent. It was a time, at the beginning of the war, when there was no real state, no real police or army. There were gangs and warlords. Your feeling each day was you were lucky no one came for you that day, so best to keep quiet."
Now, Finci said, the airing of the truth should permit people to come to terms with it and clarify once and for all the number of people who were slain.
But the government of Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnia's wartime president and now the Muslim member of Bosnia's three-member collective presidency, has not yet confronted reports of Caco's activities and similar alleged atrocities by Muslim forces.
Caco was arrested and killed in October 1993 after authorities apparently decided that he was out of control. Last year, he was reburied in the kind of Muslim ceremony reserved for heroes.
The two Sarajevo magazines that have led the way in reviving the accounts, Dani and Slobodna Bosna, claimed that one of his top deputies continues to hold a senior post in Izetbegovic's ruling Party of Democratic Action, a nationalistic Muslim party, and another works as the president's bodyguard.
"We think . . . writing about our own crime and criminals . . . is the only way," Dani said in an editorial explaining its decision to open old wounds. "This is a dark spot on the bright wartime history of Sarajevo. It is worse that people remain silent about it. . . . By hiding individuals who are guilty, Sarajevo is attracting the odium of collective guilt."
In their trial, the soldiers told of killing with a particularly bloodthirsty brutality. Victims were stabbed repeatedly. One man was soaked in turpentine and burned. A woman was decapitated.
One of the soldiers, Asif Alibasic, told of how he and Refik Colak followed Caco's orders to kill Marina Komljenac, a woman in her 60s who used a crutch, and her husband, Radoslav. The soldiers shared hot chocolate with the woman and gave her a blanket against the cold before stabbing her and her husband to death.
"I felt sick," Alibasic testified. "Caco said we should praise God that they were dead because if he'd found them alive we'd be dead. . . . It's true I knew about these criminal acts and didn't report it, and the whole town knew these things happened, and the Supreme Command and the Interior Ministry knew. . . . If I reported it, I wouldn't be alive today."
The mass grave was exhumed in 1994 and 29 bodies were recovered, but then the dig was abruptly ordered halted.
"Caco is gone, but those who gave the orders remain," said Zlatko Dzidarevic, editor of the magazine Svjet. "As long as the silence about that is a conceived political act, there is no Bosnia and there will be no Bosnia. With the stories about Caco and those above him, the final blow to Bosnia's image has definitely and irreparably been inflicted. . . . Nothing will be the same, but maybe this is better, because the future cannot be built on false myths."
20th anniversary of murder of Sarajevo Serbs marked (October 27, 2013)
SARAJEVO - Sarajevo marked the 20th anniversary of the crime against Serbs in Kazani pit at Trebevic, near the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH).
After the civil war in BiH, the authorities recovered from pit Kazani the remains of 29 individuals murdered by soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division of the BiH Army with Musan Topalovic Caco as the commander.
Vice President of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Svetozar Pudaric laid wreaths at the scene of the crime and honoured the innocent Serb civilians from Sarajevo.
He said that a war crime was committed at Kazani and that the truth about those who committed crimes in the war should be separated from the truth about those who fought honourably.
In 2011, Pudaric launched the initiative for putting a memorial plate honouring victims in Kazani but the plate has not been installed yet.
Musan Caco Topalovic is believed to be responsible for the murder of Serb and Croatian civilians in Sarajevo as he took civilians from their homes together with other members of his Division and brought them to Trebevic where they were executed and their bodies were then thrown into the pits called Kazani.
Topalovic was arrested on a warrant issued by the Bosniak political authorities on October 26, 1993, in the Trebevic action which left nine soldiers and police officers of the BiH Army dead. Topalovic was killed a day later in an attempt to flee.
A total of 14 members of the BiH Army have been found guilty for the crime in Kazani and they received prison sentences of 10 months to 6 years.
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